A few weeks ago the internet was in a storm discussing the murder of missionary John Chau, a Christian who attempted to go to an illegal island (North Sentinel Island), and bring the Gospel to an unreached people group, commonly called the Sentinelese.
There is quite a bit of both criticism and support towards Chau from both Christians and non-Christians alike. Many of the criticisms are premature, other conversations about appropriate methodology are legitimate and fair. I have a host of thoughts about Chau and the mission organization that sent him, including high words of praise, as well as some pastoral concerns about the organization’s methodology.
Let it be known right now that the Sentinelese do not live on an island, but in a museum. Secularists in America who think they are being culturally respectful by passionately maintaining that no one attempt to change the Sentinelese way of life, are indeed acting as zookeepers. In other words, Chau’s politically incorrect malfeasance was to jump over the railing and try to enter the pit.
This cultural mentality has infected the Sentinelese with more colonial modernity than giving their children showers and dentistry.
Along with the fear of spreading disease, the reason Chau’s cultural crime struck such a nerve with so many westerners was due to their fearfulness that Chau was going to introduce the godforsaken evil of modernity, the kind which these socially conscious secularists enjoy everyday. Those virtue signalers who know the gifts of modernity significantly improve their lives get outraged when these gifts are threatened to improve the lives of others.
Obviously there is no evidence that Chau was looking to bring modernity to this people. He clearly wanted to live among them and learn their culture in order to give them the Gospel. Chau was not interested in colonization. He offered to be assimilated; he was not threatening them with assimilation. However, I understand the notion many have that bringing Jesus to the island just might end up making the entirety of their lives better off in the near future. It might end up transforming their culture, causing them to live with more comforts, more health, and be far more successful at multiplying in the earth. The secular westerners love this foreign culture so much they don’t want the Sentinelese to prosper.
Dignity as an Essential Ingredient
The North Sentinelese have failed to protect their culture. They have become impregnated by the modern world because the modern world has stripped the dignity from them, and dignity is an essential ingredient to every culture. Those championing their way of life are the most to blame.
The Sentinelese are not a self-sufficient people; they are a protected people. Let’s assume secular presuppositions and go back in time 100,000 years when everyone was living like the Sentinelese. Who would be protecting the Sentinlenese then? Who would be the ones making sure no one visits their island and changes their way of life? The Indians that guard them by making it illegal to visit their island and refuse to colonize their way of life, are providing a hedge of protection that would not be offered to the island if the rest of the world lived like the Sentinelese.
Did you catch the irony of all that? Colonial principles have still provided life for these people, who we are supposed to assume don’t want colonialism. If India, or America for that sake, were as lawless and ruthless as that tribe, as the Darwinism of the day commends we be, there would be nothing standing between them and a handful of highly trained Navy Seals taking everything from them.
My parents have a small dog named Reggie. Growing up, as the saying goes, his bark was bigger than his bite. He would love to run up to much bigger dogs and bark… while he was on the other side of the fence we put up. A few times a larger dog entered the home and Reggie was tucked in a corner with his tail between his legs, trying not to be noticed.
Whenever he would get back to the safety of his master’s protection, he would again begin again his barking, growling ways, and often times we would mock him in baby-voice by saying, “You’re a scary dog, Reggie!”
India (and the rest of the world) is treating the Sentinelese people like my parent’s dog, allowing them to think they are something they are not. The Sentinelese murder lost fishermen, and an unarmed missionary, then presume they are a threat to be reckoned with, while the modernized nations wink at one another and glorify their “self-sufficient” way of life. It’s so cute, huh?
The modern world let’s them think they are a self-sufficient group of terrifying warriors, when unbeknownst to them, they are reaping the fruit of a culture more powerful and sophisticated than their own. These people are not any more self-sufficient or free than tigers and lions living in a zoo.
The Sentinelese have kept their way of life at the cost of their dignity, without even having a say in the matter, and all of the patronizing attempts to apply value to their culture cannot return their dignity to them. Ironically, it is a means whereby we continue to strip value from them.
Every time a westerner talks about these people as if their culture and way of life is not inferior to many others, as if they are not wicked people who need spiritual and cultural reformation, the westerner is doing nothing more than squeaking their voice in baby talk, while metaphorically patting the Sentinelese on their heads.
Chau’s brief mission turned the westerns world’s attention toward this mysterious people group secluded on their island like Salron’s eye when Frodo puts on the ring. Most conversations have revolved around Chau. The conversations about the Sentinelese have been scarce and altogether, disappointing. It’s amazing how a group with as extreme a border control policy as theirs could receive such sympathy and support from American thinkers.
Non-Christians all over the internet are accusing Chau of colonialism, because government is god in this country; thus, everyone else’s religious endeavors are filtered through that lens. But more on that later.
What amazes me is the lack of biblical commentary on the people who inhabit the North Sentinel Island. Rampant on social media is a very sympathetic tone toward this people group. In many other cases, they are being lionized as heros who have “escaped imperialism.” A twitter user even said that they were righteous to “protect their way of life” and that it’s actually “the arrogant Christian community that needs forgiveness, not the Sentinelese.” One Twitter user even said we need to pay “homage” to the Sentinelese for being a “fearless African negrito tribe that is still fighting Europeans for trying to colonize them.”
Even many left-leaning Christians have not come within ten miles of being publicly honest about what the Bible teaches in regards to a tribe like the Sentinelese. Why? Identity politics.
Perhaps this is why the inclination to “live and let live” suddenly sprouted from the soil of secular westerners. Christians like myself have been fighting for this our entire lives. Christians in California can’t even use straws. I get blamed for overheating the earth because I let my car run in -5 degree weather. Secularists are insatiable on this side of the pond, pushing socialism of all things. The last thing they are interested in is leaving people alone, unless we’re talking about bringing the Gospel to the Sentinelese. They become libertarians really quick once salvation is brought into the picture.
Leftist-thought sees these people as the exact opposite of their greatest enemies: wealthy, white, American men. Sentinelese are “minorities.” That term doesn’t really apply, since they are the vast majority within their own culture. But they are not white, they are not Christian evangelicals, and therefore, they are untouchable. This people-group has become icons, heroes, victors.
The Truth about the Sentinelese
While many emulate, the Bible is not silent about unreached people groups, or any group for that matter. Romans 1:18-25,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
Here are a number of things the Sentinelese cannot hide, no matter how secluded they remain. They are a worshiping people. They are religious to their core, because all people groups are religious to their core. We also know they do not worship the Triune God of Scripture.
The Sentinelese people are wicked. All of us are before Christ, and they evidence this by the way the brutally murder foreigners.
Lastly, it needs to be made known that they are accountable for their wickedness. The world around them paints the picture that they are simply wrapped in their culture of death, and that they are defending themselves from diseases, assimilation, etc. attempting justify the hatred this tribe has for foreigners.
“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
This is a group that hates God. This is a group that has sinned against the God they know exists. This is a group that, while they know murder is wrong, they murder regardless.
This is not a group worthy of our admiration. This is not a group we get to use for social media virtue signaling. They are not heroes, they are murderers. They are sinners who need the Gospel.
Some of my humble readers may think I am being too harsh. I would ask for some slack, as I am in a bit of a lose-lose situation here. I will be criticized for being too harsh, but how would the people of the internet behave if I tried a kind of radical, sacrificial love for the Sentinelese? Well, John Chau tried that, and the internet grilled him for that method, too.
What Happens to those Who Have Never Heard?
Romans 1 above is an important text in answering what happens to those who die unreached. The text makes clear there are no “get out of jail free” cards. The unreached are willful sinners against the God they know exists. They will be judged for their sin.
This has two important ramifications. First, it demonstrates the need for more people like John Chau. I am sure there are plans for reaching this tribe, but we as Christians need to pray they advance. Until then, these people will continue to die in their sins, without ever hearing about how to be forgiven of their sins.
It also must remind us that people do not go to hell for “rejecting the Gospel.” People go to hell for their sin.
Imagine a town gets sick with a deadly virus. Then imagine someone invents an immediate cure. He travels house to house offering it, some take it, some do not. Those who refused did not die of not taking the medicine. They were killed by the virus. The people who died before he got to their house, never “rejected” the medicine. But they still died, because of the virus.
Now imagine one last secluded house, riddled with the virus, and they shoot the good doctor to death the second he approaches their front door.
People go to hell for sinning against the God they know exists. They are culpable for their sin, and worthy of judgment whether they hear good news or not.
The Sentinelese have been conquered. The modern world has caged them, protected them, and now condescendingly looks in awe at their bizarre way of life like enthralled children walking around a zoo for the first time.
No amount of secular patronizing and virtue signaling can hide the fact that the Sentinelese have lost their dignity, without being able to reap any of the benefits of modernity in the process.
Nevertheless, the fact remains, this is a people whose culture is inferior in many ways to the modern world. This is a people group in need of cultural, and more importantly, spiritual transformation.
Certainly, the Gospel does not demand they become white westerners. There is plenty of their culture to keep, and plenty of ours to reject. But healthcare would be nice. More sons and daughters outside of the family would be a helpful start. Dental work might not be so bad either.
But above all, they need Jesus. And while there is plenty of room for criticizing Chau’s methods, it is at least admirable Chau did not allow the zookeepers to discourage him from bringing something to the North Sentinel Island which it desperately needs.